Yearly undergraduate tuition and fees at U.S. four-year schools averages around $10,000-$33,000. Students use financial aid to cover 92% of that cost. The average undergrad takes out $30,000 in loans to help pay for school.
It's no surprise that the U.S. ranks in the top three most expensive countries for college. But there are a surprising number of countries with free college––if you qualify.
How can you take advantage of tuition-free college in another country? First, do your research. In some countries, only citizens qualify for free college tuition. In others, international students can earn a free degree, as long as they speak the local language. Our guide walks through everything you need to know about countries with free college.
What is Free College?
What is free college––and is it really free? There are many types of free college, partly because college costs include more than just tuition. U.S. college students typically pay tuition and fees, plus living expenses. However, in some countries, public universities do not charge tuition. Students who qualify for tuition-free college still cover their living expenses, though.
What are some types of free college? In a debt-free program, degree-seekers do not need to take on any debt to attend college. Government scholarships, grants, and other forms of financial aid cover all expenses. Other types of free college include tuition-free programs that do not charge tuition. In these cases, students cover living expenses. Other programs guarantee free tuition after scholarships and grants.
Many U.S. states and local areas offer college promise programs. These programs typically cover tuition at either community colleges or four-year public colleges. Graduating seniors may need to meet family income requirements to qualify. Outside the U.S., countries around the world offer free or low-cost college.
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22 Countries That Offer Free College
Countries around the world offer tuition-free and low-tuition colleges. While many U.S. colleges cost tens of thousands in yearly tuition and fees, attending college in these 22 countries costs much less.
Keep in mind that the requirements for free college depend on the country. Many do not charge tuition for citizens, but do charge tuition for international students. In many European countries, other Europeans study for free, but non-Europeans pay more.
Why do these countries offer college for free? The government funds public universities to educate the population.
Argentina offers free college tuition for citizens and international students. However, the free tuition only applies to undergraduate programs at public universities. Those enrolling at private universities still pay tuition. It's a great deal for anyone interested in studying in Argentina.
Austria provides free college tuition for Austrians and EU citizens attending a public university. The free tuition even extends to two semesters past the length of the degree. International students benefit from Austria's low tuition rates, which come to around $800 per semester. Austria's private universities charge higher tuition rates.
Brazil is one of the countries with free college for every student––including international students. The country's government subsidizes the public university system. Students with high entrance exam scores attend these federal universities for free. However, the classes are in Portuguese, so only fluent students can take advantage of the tuition-free college.
The Czech Republic is one of the countries with free college for everyone, regardless of nationality. However, the free college tuition programs are only offered in the Czech language. Students interested in English-language programs have many affordable options in the Czech Republic, some with no tuition charges.
In Denmark, many students qualify for free higher education. Danish citizens, as well as those from EU countries or Switzerland, qualify for tuition-free college. Exchange program students, permanent residents, and some temporary residents also qualify. Other international students pay tuition to attend Danish universities.
Egypt's public universities offer free college for residents. International students and those who attend private universities do pay tuition. However, Egyptian public universities charge very affordable tuition rates for international students. According to a 2019 report, international students can earn a degree for as little as $7,000 in Egypt.
Finland provides free college for Finnish and EU citizens. International students taking English-language programs pay tuition. However, Finland offers a major perk for those seeking a graduate degree. The country's universities do not charge tuition for doctoral programs, regardless of nationality.
In France, European students attend any public university for a very low price. Europeans pay around $200 in yearly undergraduate tuition. The subsidized price extends to residents of Quebec, international students with long-term residence cards, and refugees. The government also subsidizes tuition for international students, who pay around $3,000 per year for bachelor's programs.
Germany boasts many top-ranked universities, and it's one of the countries with free college, even for international students. Applicants must demonstrate proficiency in German, though many universities offer English-language programs as well. Attending an English-language program typically costs more than the free programs taught in German.
Students from EU countries can earn a bachelor's degree for free at a Greek university. International students typically pay around $1,600 per year to enroll in a Greek undergraduate program. Greece's universities also offer English-language graduate programs designed for international students.
Iceland has seven universities and many offer free college tuition to all students, no matter their nationality. International students make up around 5% of Iceland's college population. While public universities do not charge tuition fees, Iceland's private universities come with tuition costs.
Kenya offers very low-cost college for residents. In 2020, Kenyan college students paid around $265 per year at the state's public universities. International students can also earn a college degree at a low tuition rate in Kenya. The country's private universities charge higher tuition fees.
One of Europe's smallest countries, Luxembourg did not operate a university until 2003. Today, the University of Luxembourg offers very low-cost tuition programs. First-year students pay under $1,000 per year, while all other students pay under $500 per year. Luxembourg citizens qualify for state-funded financial aid to cover costs.
Malaysia recently moved toward a tuition-free college policy. While the country's public universities charge tuition, the government offers many subsidies to make college free or low-cost. However, these subsidies only extend to citizens. International students still find very affordable universities in Malaysia, though.
Norway offers free college tuition at all of its public universities for both Norwegians and international students. The Norwegian government funds these universities to help degree-seekers graduate with less debt. Norway also offers scholarships and grants to cover living expenses in the high-cost-of-living country.
Panama's public universities offer free college tuition for citizens and noncitizens. That means international students can attend one of Panama's public universities, like the Universidad de Panama, for free. Panama also features private universities and partnerships with U.S. universities, but these institutions charge tuition.
Poland offers tuition-free college at its public institutions for residents and some international students. However, the free programs operate in the Polish language. Students interested in English-language programs typically pay around $2,200 per year for undergraduate degrees. Doctoral programs charge no tuition for any students, including international students, and all doctoral students receive a scholarship.
Public universities in Slovenia charge no tuition for Slovenian citizens or students from EU countries. Students from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, or Serbia attend with no charges, as well. International students ineligible for free tuition pay as little as $2,100 annually for Slovenian bachelor's programs.
In Spain, Spanish and European students attend public universities for free. International students pay tuition at Spain's 50 public universities. However, the government covers 80% of international tuition, making college very affordable. International students enroll at Spanish universities for under $1,000 per year.
Sweden offers tuition-free college for Swedish citizens and EU students. Any university with government funding cannot charge tuition for these students. However, international students and those who attend private universities generally pay a low tuition rate to attend college in Sweden.
Turkey's public universities offer very low-cost tuition rates for Turkish citizens. For example, citizens might pay as little as $80 per year to enroll in a bachelor's program. Those low tuition rates extend to international students. They attend undergraduate programs in Turkish for as little as $280 annually or in English for as little as $450.
Uruguay offers free college tuition at its public universities for residents. The free tuition does not extend to international students, however. And as a smaller country in South America, Uruguay has only two public universities. The country's private universities charge tuition for citizens and noncitizens.
Should You Study Abroad?
If unsure about earning a degree internationally, students can study abroad to take advantage of countries with free college. Many countries offer free tuition for students in exchange programs. Study abroad programs provide immersive cultural experiences besides offering college classes in another country.
Before signing up for a study abroad program, research options with a tool like Studyportals. Undergrads often participate in programs through their current school or with an independent organization. Make sure to compare different programs' total cost, credit requirements, and length.
Next, research financial aid options. You can use federal financial aid to pay for international study, but it depends on the type of program. Finally, learn more about the country before you head abroad. Take language, history, and culture classes at your current school. And budget for travel and entertainment while you're abroad. You'll want to take advantage of your time as an international student even outside of the classroom.